Lessons from the purple crocodile

Lessons from the purple crocodile

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The effect of autonomy and the use of common sense


Who can still remember OHRA’s famous commercial about the purple crocodile? “But… it’s standing over there.” “Yes…it’s standing there”. Ever since the commercial aired on television in 2004, the purple crocodile has become a symbol of excessive bureaucracy and customer unfriendliness.

Although customer friendliness is now high on the agenda at many companies, the purple crocodile as a symbol is still relevant. The caricature about bureaucratic practices is well known. But it contains a second crocodile lesson: give employees the space and autonomy to use their own common sense.

Crocodile works at the bank

The following incident shows that the purple Croc is still very much alive. My friend recently wanted to delete his savings account from a well-known Dutch bank. This could not be done online but had to be done physically at the bank. When he arrived at the building, the place was deserted except for two employees. The Corona measures were clearly visible here. What followed was a process that our Crocodile friend would have been proud of.

Making an appointment

“Did you make an appointment?”, one of the employees asked. “No,” said my friend, “but I see there’s no one there. Can I make an appointment with you for, let’s say, …now?”

Unfortunately that was not possible. He received a card with the telephone number of another department of the bank on it and he had to make an appointment himself. Luckily, there was still a timeslot available that same day, although he did have to wait half an hour. Which was strange, because, as I said, there was no one in the waiting area. Anyway, after half an hour he was back on the sidewalk at the (still empty) bank branch. “Did we still have a timeslot available for you?” the service worker asked. Um… yes.

The effect of crocodile practices

Look, I can understand that it is useful to work only by appointment. This prevents customers from having to wait outside for an long time, due to the applicable Corona measures. But you would think that a customer who comes in at random when there are no appointments scheduled for other customers, could be helped immediately. “But there’s no one here.” “Yes…there’s no one here.” A shame because crocodile practices have hugely detrimental effects:

  1. Fun jobs are reduced to executing processes and following rules – a killer for job happiness, creativity, and job fulfillment.
  2. Specific situations are captured by general rules. Wave goodbye to customized customer service (“we can’t help you now, even though the waiting area is empty”) and hello to unnecessary work (“you need to call and make an appointment, even though the waiting area is empty”).


How it can be done differently

How can it be done? By giving employees frameworks, but not their interpretation, you give them the opportunity to use their own common sense. The bank employees without a doubt understand that Corona does not allow too many people in the building. It is enough to give them this framework. We are talking about professional and thoughtful employees here. If they see that no appointments are scheduled and the building is empty, they can simply help a customer who comes in at random.

Happier employees, happier customers

Giving autonomy, it sounds exciting. But don’t worry, most people can handle responsibility just fine (see also the blog about trusting employees). Moreover, we are talking about the professionals where who has passed a thorough selection procedure – your own. If you don’t trust them with some level of responsibility, then why did you hire them in the first place? You will see, giving your organization autonomy provides a lot of benefits.

On the one hand, autonomy results in happier bank employees, because they are able to help a customer and experience the freedom to make choices based on their own professionalism. On the other hand, autonomy also results in happier customers, because they receive good service and their questions are properly handled. What’s not to like? So, who dares!